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How are Seniors Choosing and Changing Health Insurance Plans?

What do beneficiaries suggest to improve the system?

Seniors need […] support. They need help that’s not just a matter of getting phone numbers and how to work the computer. They need actual, personalized help, that doesn’t cost money.
-PDP Beneficiary (Seattle, WA)

The following are ideas suggested by the seniors in this study for improving the decision making process in Medicare.  While acknowledging that they are resistant to change and reluctant to engage in the decision making process after their initial choices, many seniors feel that Medicare could do more to facilitate plan choice.

Increase access to in-person help for choosing plans.  Beneficiaries want to sit down with someone face-to-face to discuss their options and have their questions answered. Currently, insurance agents and plan representatives are filling this role. While most beneficiaries do not seem concerned about their objectivity or potential biases, beneficiaries would appreciate alternatives to these sources.

Explain more clearly how people might benefit from a change in plans (or the cost of inaction).  Focus group participants do not necessarily think there is anything to gain by revisiting their choice of insurance plans and suggest that it could help to have someone explain how the process could benefit them. Giving real examples of how people benefited after switching plans could be helpful. It could also be helpful to remind people that their health situations change as do plans, and it is worth making sure they are getting the most out of their insurance.

Create a user-friendly online tool to help beneficiaries narrow down their plan options. One of the biggest challenges identified by study participants in choosing a plan was the multitude of plans to consider and compare. Beneficiaries in this study liked the idea of a tool that could give them a shortlist of potential plans that could work for them based on a few pieces of information like their top plan selection criteria.  They did not seem to think that the Medicare Compare plan finder website performed this task adequately.  Beneficiaries complained that the current Medicare Compare plan finder uses complicated language and does not provide helpful plan comparisons. They suggested updating the site with more clear language and streamlined tools that allow apples-to-apples comparisons.

Advertise the star rating system, although beneficiaries say they still may not use it.  Very few people know about the star rating system. While it is not likely to be a decisive factor in people’s decisions, most think it would provide another piece of helpful information. Along with giving the star rating greater visibility, study participants also requested simple explanations of how the ratings are produced; beneficiaries want to know this information and say it will give more credibility to the ratings.

Retain plan choices:  Abundance in the number of plan options is both a blessing and a curse.  Study participants expressed some ambivalence about the amount of choices in plans. On the one hand, most believe that having a lot of plans to choose from leads to more competition and better quality and prices. On the other hand, they also find having too many choices to be overwhelming when it comes to actually sifting through the information and choosing a plan.

Overall, beneficiaries in this study were resistant to the idea of anyone (especially the government) limiting their choices. But they like the idea of developing tools to help them narrow down their choices based on certain criteria that are important or relevant to them.

What drives some people on Medicare to switch plans? Discussion

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Filling the need for trusted information on national health issues, the Kaiser Family Foundation is a nonprofit organization based in Menlo Park, California.